Consecutive Justin Cobbs’ three point baskets, brought the Golden Bears within two points, 64-62, with 24 seconds to go. After junior guard Evan Gordon split a pair of free throws, Cal's Allen Crabbe fumbled away the ball while attempting to get off a three point shot, resulting in a turnover for the visitor's and a Jon Gilling free throw to secure the win for the Sun Devils.
"I thought maybe we were a little bit like somebody who is forced to drive a stick shift but never had a real good lesson," said Head Coach Herb Sendek on his team's offensive struggles late. "I thought we got caught in between with the lead with should we be patient - we don't want to quick shoot - and then they changed to the zone, and I probably could have done a better job with our guys with just making sure they knew we still had to play and be in a tack mode. I think I probability contributed to some of their hesitancy by not amplifying that mindset."
On a night when neither Jahii Carson nor Carrick Felix could gain any momentum offensively, the Sun Devils were led by Gordon and senior center Ruslan Pateev.
Gordon got the night started for the Sun Devils, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half as Arizona State (18-5, 7-3) used an early 15-1 run to jump ahead by as many as 16 before taking a 10 point lead into halftime. Gordon, who entered the game averaging nearly 15 points in the team's last six contests, shot 8-13 from the field, including 3-5 from behind the three point line.
It marked the fourth time this season Gordon scored 20 or more for the Sun Devils to go along with four rebounds, three assist and two steals for the night.
"I think we're playing more together as a team and I'm getting the ball and getting shots," said Gordon on his recent play. "Other players are stepping up so they don't have to help on me. And I think Jahii is creating his game with the pull-up, so as a team we're just working together a lot more."
Pateev came off the bench early for the Sun Devils as Jordan Bachysnki struggled against the Golden Bear forecourt. The senior matched career-high with 12 points, eight of which came in the first half, while adding eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
"We got a great contribution once again from the ultimate team player," said Sendek of Pateev. "I just couldn't be more proud of Ruslan and I know I continue to bring this up but I think it deserves mention; he's a young man who has never been center stage but has always been an unconditionally great teammate. So he's like a constant reminder to everybody in our program of the beauty of being unselfish."
"And now to see him have these kinds of contributions down the home stretch of his senior year is about as good as it gets for a coach."
Helping Pateev inside was sophomore Jonathan Gilling, who after scoring 22 points in the loss to Washington last Saturday, opened the game with a pair of three point baskets to ignite the ASU offense. He finished with nine points on just 3-11 shooting, but grabbed eight rebounds and had the game-clinching free throw with four seconds remaining.
"Probably one out of two games in this league he's going to be undersized if he's going to play the four," said Sendek about Gilling. "So that's going to be a reality for him. You could see Cal coming at him with actions to see if they could post him and I thought for the most part, he did a pretty good job with it."
After giving up 50 points in the paint and being outrebounded by Huskies in their last game, ASU limited the Golden Bears to just 24 points in the paint while coming ahead on the boards by two.
Jahii Carson finished the night with 12 points - 10 of which came early in the second half - and four steals. After turning the ball just once last weekend in 69 minutes of action, Carson had five turnovers against California (13-9, 5-5).
Carrick Felix left the game late after being poked in the eye. Sendek said afterwards that Felix struggled momentarily with double-vision but was checked out by the team doctor after the game and is reportedly cleared to play on Saturday when the Sun Devils host Stanford. Felix had eight points and five rebounds in the win.